Atwater, California " Dozens of animals " possibly including dogs, raccoons, coyotes and opossums " were discovered skinned and rotting in a field along Stroup Road in a gruesome scene Saturday.

Located just south of Waterloo Road, the mound of animal carcasses, trash and rubber gloves was piled about three feet high. More animal remains lay randomly scattered along a nearby fence line.

When a backhoe lifted and buried the remains, the rotting stench permeated the air.
Officials from the Portage County Sheriff's Department, Portage Animal Protective League and the Portage County Dog Warden's office all responded to a report of a pile of skinned and decomposing "dogs" around 1 p.m.

But exactly what types of animals were discovered there was still a mystery Saturday night.

Sheriff David Doak said it appears the carcasses had been dumped on the property, and no charges have been filed. He said the animal carcasses may be exhumed for further investigation.

"We're going to open an investigation into this with the (Portage County) dog warden and possibly with the Ohio Division of Wildlife," he said, adding any charges filed would likely include animal cruelty. "We're going to investigate and try to be certain there were domestic animals involved."

When officials examined the remains, they could not conclusively identify each species of animal, but determined they were all somehow trapped.

Portage County Dog Warden Dave McIntyre said of the 30 piled up " along with about 20 carcasses and bones scattered along the fence line " he at first believed at least three were dogs. One of them had been shot, and several more animals were beheaded, said McIntyre.

He said due to a brutal winter, it is difficult to determine how long the animals have been there. However, in the middle of the pile was a Record-Courier newspaper dated Aug. 28, 2008.

All of the animals appeared to have been skinned from the elbow up. No identifying collars were found by investigators.

"This could be a fur operation or a cult thing "I just don't know," said McIntyre. "That was just kind of barbaric. Even if those animals were trapped, that's no way to dispose of them."

McIntyre said he has not seen an increase in the number of animals reported missing, and no fewer cases of strays than usual.

He later conceded " after browsing the Internet " the possibility that the carcasses belonged to coyotes.

"Any way you look at it, this isn't right," McIntyre said.

Dan White, who owns the property where the animals were discovered, said he did not know who dumped the animals on his land. He did not believe there were domestic animals in the pile.

Kevin Eckmeyer, who lives near the scene, spotted the animals while walking with his young daughter on Stroup Road.

"This is a terrible thing," he said. Eckmeyer said he is certain that at least a few of the animals were dogs, noting that he even compared paw prints of the carcasses with his own dogs' paws.

"Why would someone skin a dog?" he asked. "It's just wrong."
Doak said cases like this are often difficult to investigate unless citizens come forward with leads.

He said anyone with information about the case is encouraged to call Lt. Greg Johnson at 330-297-3890.